Sunday, December 5, 2010

Preying Praying Mantis

Big compound eyes and sharp spines on forelegs
Basking in the morning sun; legs outstretched to snatch prey
Praying Mantis Looking like a cosmos leaf and watching the camera

Monarch for breakfast

European Praying Mantis consuming Monarch Butterfly

Where is it?  Some days I spot the European Praying Mantis in the garden and other days I don’t.  Its camouflage is so excellent that I may look directly at the mantid,  glance away at a butterfly, look back - and it has vanished!  Of course, it’s still hanging in the same spot, looking like a leaf and a flower stem.  The Praying Mantis needs this disguise to hide from birds such as Blue Jays and Mockingbirds.  But this insect, Mantis religiosa,  is a large and voracious predator.  Consider this: during a Hummingbird Festival, several of my Master Naturalist acquaintances reported hearing a hummingbird squeaking in distress.  When they investigated the source of the fuss, they discovered a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the clutches of a Praying Mantis.  They confessed that they did intervene, using a pencil to carefully pry the tiny bird from the mantis’s  grip.   Another Master Naturalist friend recounted that as a child she and her sister would feed raw hamburger to mantids on her front screen door.  Interestingly, the next season, Praying Mantises returned to her screen!  In my garden, I have seen the Praying Mantis devour Green Anoles, bugs, moths, and to my great dismay, a Monarch Butterfly.   After that episode, I was emotionally and foolishly considering a “Praying Mantis Relocation Program”.  I wanted to move it away from the Milkweed Patch to a different part of the yard, but first, I would have to find it.  After two days and no sign of the mantid, I had calmed down.  The Praying Mantis is hunting, hidden in the garden.